Putting an End to the Sales-Marketing Rivalry: Strategies from IBM, Huawei and Accenture

Sales and marketing don’t always see eye-to-eye. While they both primarily engage in outreach efforts to leads and consumers, both departments operate differently, produce different outputs, and utilise different KPIs. Conflicts arise when sales and marketing fail to grasp the requirements of each other’s work and can’t fully appreciate each other’s contributions.


Sales and marketing play an essential role in every company. A misalignment between both teams can be disastrous for a firm’s growth and jeopardise efforts to restructure and diversify in times of change.


At our panel discussion during the recent Mumbrella360Asia, we reflected on common concerns faced by firms looking to align both teams. Experts from key sectors were invited to express their opinions on the issue.


Photo from mumbrella event with IBM, Huawei and Accenture

From left to right - Eileen Chan, Head of Commercial at Content.co, Jonathan Ye, the APAC Digital Marketing Lead at Huawei, Sonia Gupta, Digital Managing Director at Accenture, Sunny Panjabi, the APAC Content Marketing Lead at IBM, and Yi Wen Chan, Head of Content at Content.co


Key Takeaways


Our panellists discussed how firms can begin the process of reconciling sales and marketing, as well as the importance of creating good content for their target audiences. Here, we highlight the four key steps to bridging the gap:


Agree on common objectives to align sales and marketing

Going in blind is never an option when it comes to gelling both teams. Both teams need to take the initiative and create a common target to provide each team with a clearer picture of the other’s objectives, actions and limitations.


Utilise available data to understand your consumer

Data allows your sales and marketing teams to help each other with mutual goals. For marketing teams, this means understanding customer likes, dislikes and opinions on products. For sales teams, this means knowing when and how customers and leads interact with brand platforms.


Unpack the components of the buying experience

Buyer personas and their behaviour should give your sales and marketing teams a clear view of when and how to target their audiences. Use this information to unpack key segments of the buying experience.


While converting potential buyers into qualified leads is a key objective for both teams, they should also adjust consumer touchpoints to suit common objectives and review their processes to minimise consumer pain points.


Make both teams equally accountable for their results

Assessing the success of your output is part and parcel of progress. Sales and marketing teams should not feel like cogs in the wheel - ensure that they are equally accountable for their results. Pave the way forward by making the impact of both parties’ work visible and create realistic expectations for their efforts.


In Detail


Agree on common objectives to align sales and marketing


Questions raised by Sonia reflect the common concerns of brands in different sectors:


“What is the role of marketing and sales in a connected world? What have we done so far? Is this really going to serve us as we move into the future? What should success look like?”


As firms progress towards a more integrated structure, it’s clear that creating a well-married sales and marketing team is becoming increasingly vital to success. 


The first step towards building this relationship is creating common objectives for both teams. To create good content, marketers must be kept in the loop with regards to what customers are communicating with sales teams. Understanding their customers’ needs and requests and can help marketers deliver highly targeted and effective content.


IBM is a great example of a company that has created common goals for sales and marketing. IBM brought its regional sales and marketing teams together and decided on a common target audience for both teams - the CIO.


IBM has a dedicated platform that aims to help CIOs maximise their personal value (Source: IBM)


To Sunny, a key component of this was addressing how they wanted CIOs to react to their products.


“Can our products and services help the CIO become a hero in the boardroom? Can the CIO say, ‘IBM’s staff really helped me to achieve business growth’?”


Through this, IBM forged a close relationship between themselves and their target audience.

Articles focus on the empowerment of the CIO through IBM’s products (Source: IBM)



Focusing on a common target means that sales and marketing teams can align their KPIs and outreach tactics towards a joint objective. This way, outreach tactics can truly value-add to their audience.


Utilise available data to understand your consumer


When asked about Huawei’s top priority for the coming year, Jonathan said:


“We have data sitting all across our website and social media. At the end of the day, it’s going to take an organisational mindset shift to combine that with second and third-party data to give your customers relevant content.”


Although marketers may assume that the data that they collect isn’t applicable to sales, this is rarely the case. Big data and predictive analytics can be used to gain insights on customer behaviour and content consumption patterns.


Marketing: Know your customers well - but don’t scare them away


By sharing data, sales teams can better anticipate consumer needs. Insights from data also help marketers to create uniform buyer personas that are critical to understanding their audiences.


Create a buyer persona based on the following:

  • Background (company, role in the company, career path)
  • Demographic (gender, age, country)
  • Identifiers (e.g. content preference)
  • Goals
  • Challenges/pain points
  • What you can do for them


Marketers that gather consistent customer feedback from their personas - these include key quotes and pain points observed in the use of their product or service - have more agility in responding to customer concerns. They can use this information to formulate a marketing message for their persona and sell them on a solution to their problems.


Marketers can also make use of progressive profiling software to collect additional information on existing profiles. Progressive profiling works by only showing form fields that haven’t already been filled out. This helps to collate specific consumer information that can be useful in creating a buyer persona.


Our sharing touched on such a case study. At SecureWorks, forms created upon contact asked for information such as names, companies and zip codes. As their profiles’ involvement progressed, SecureWorks started getting a little more intrusive. Questions asked included the size of their companies, their industries and the projects that they had been running.


SecureWorks warns that teams must avoid straining the digital relationship before prospects are ready.


“By the end, it was a fully formed questionnaire, but the team made sure that if they only engaged a few (five to six times) with early-stage content, they wouldn’t ask the more intrusive questions.”


Sales: Everyone consumes content differently


Meanwhile, sales teams can also use marketing data to understand common content consumption patterns. Content consumption is split into three types:

  • Passive: content consumed without interaction, i.e. news articles, books and magazines, question-specific information and multimedia information (TV, music, movies)
  • Social: content consumed semi-passively via social media, i.e. checking social media sites
  • Conversation: active one-to-one or one-to-many interaction


Targeting information to the right audiences and through proper channels helps sales teams to better cross-sell and upsell their products and results in quicker deals.


Unpack the components of the buying experience


Understand your customer journey


Break down the customer journey with a detailed marketing-sales funnel. The funnel aids marketing and sales in determining points of conversion and how best to target consumers at each buying stage. Teams can map the customer journey to assess opportunities for personalisation and formulate content ideas.


According to Jonathan:


“The recurring theme here is not pushing down people’s throats what you as a brand want them to know and hear, but more of giving them what they would deem useful. We tend to focus too much on the top of the funnel for content marketing - where it’s all about awareness. I try to look at it from top to bottom.”


Understanding what customers really want depends on understanding their thoughts and feelings when deciding on a purchase.


Here are some key aspects that marketing and sales teams should take note of:


  • Actions: What does your customer do at each funnel stage? What compels them to move further down the funnel?
  • Motivations: Why does the customer keep going? How are they feeling? Why do they care?
  • Questions: What are the uncertainties or pain points that may prevent the customer from moving on?
  • Barriers: What structural, process, cost, implementation, or other obstacles stand in the way of moving on?


Understanding the customer journey allows marketing and sales teams to better identify potential leads in the buying process.


Agree on what qualifies as a marketing vs sales qualified lead


For both teams to agree on MQLs and SQLs, they must understand how leads play into the customer journey. Not all site or store visitors are leads, and not all leads result in purchases. A basic lead development funnel looks like this:

The lead development funnel consists of marketing activities, sales activities and joint efforts by both teams


Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) build on basic leads and are leads that have indicated added interest in the product and are likely to become customers. MQLs are passed on to sales teams and become sales qualified leads (SQLs) from then on. As these leads pass through both marketing and sales, it is important that both teams define and agree on what qualifies as an MQL and SQL. An example of this is:


Sales and marketing must come to a consensus on MQL/SQL qualifications


Understanding this will help marketing and sales teams to work on points of interaction between their brand and their customers.


Align on consumer touchpoints


Touchpoints are the points where potential or current customers come into contact with a brand and its product or service. Some primary touchpoints are:


Basic consumer touchpoints during the buyer’s journey


The main conflict between marketing and sales teams often occurs when MQLs that aren’t quite ready to become customers are passed on to sales teams. This can be frustrating as sales teams waste precious time and resources trying to convert these leads into customers.


To make sure that MQLs become SQLs more efficiently, marketers should look to incorporate additional touchpoints into the buyer’s journey.


These can include:

  • What your prospect is looking for
  • How soon your prospect plans to make a buying decision
  • The cost of your product/service
  • Whether or not your prospect is a decision-maker


These points have value because they are not information that can be obtained by simply filling up a form, and require marketers to establish personal contact with their targets. This, in turn, builds rapport and creates greater trust.


Review your buyers’ process


Lastly, taking the buying process as a given based on these components can be dangerous as it doesn’t allow marketers or sales teams to identify the flaws in their operations.


A consumer business can face a high customer falloff rate even though they score consistently well in terms of customer satisfaction rates, provide prompt and efficient support services and provide a great browsing experience. While poor service on singular touchpoints may not be an issue, pain points accumulated across multiple channels over time can adversely affect a customer’s willingness to stay on with the brand.


While interaction at each touchpoint may be efficient, customers are only truly satisfied when they are provided with effective solutions to their problems. Focusing solely on metrics and touchpoints can be a huge blind spot which renders outreach efforts fruitless.


To prevent such issues, it is critical that marketing and sales teams end the buyer’s journey by reviewing it from the point of view of the customer.


To do so:

  • Understand how customers move across touchpoints.
  • Anticipate what the customer wants, needs and expects from each touchpoint.
  • Understand what works for each audience group.
  • Fix any apparent gaps in each segment of the journey.
  • Anticipate root-cause issues beforehand and rework the journey for a better end-to-end experience.


Knowing how customers experience your buying process helps marketers and sales teams establish room for improvement and makes sure that the process adapts to changing customers.


Make both teams equally accountable for their results


When brands allow sales and marketing to collaborate, they should place equal emphasis on monitoring the output of both teams. To do so, brands must start holding marketers accountable for their leads. While marketers can’t technically close the deals, they can help to identify opportunities for progression in future projects.


When asked about marketers’ accountability, Eileen said:


“If marketers are also being monitored for the kinds of topline growth they create, there’s a lot of opportunities in terms of getting marketers on board with sales strategies and product launches, and it’s a way for them to be really involved in business growth.”


Next steps


For marketing and sales to truly come together, they must be held to the same standard. While sales KPI are often more easily defined and measured, marketing teams may struggle to showcase their impact in a similar manner.


To combat this, increase the visibility of marketers’ impacts by measuring ROI based on KPIs like ‘deals influenced’. Create tangible means of measuring marketing activities by establishing a correlation between an output and its results. This helps both sales and marketing recognise the value of each other’s work.


If teams aren’t performing as expected, understand potential barriers to performance as well. Knowing what does and doesn’t work helps establish goals for future collaborations. Marketing teams must acknowledge the difficulties faced by sales teams, while sales teams must not underestimate the impact of marketing.


As customer-facing teams look to the future, they must do away with old notions, and marketing and sales teams must put aside their differences to work in tandem.




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